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Audiencescapes Provides Early Glimpse Of Haiti's Mobile Money Era

Posted by: admin on Fri, 2011-02-18 09:48

By David Montez and Peter Goldstein, InterMedia

In December 2010, two mobile money (m-money) services were launched in Haiti - a country where financial services have always been thin on the ground, and never more so than since the January 2010 earthquake, which destroyed 30 percent to 40 percent of bank branches and ATMs. Even before the earthquake, Haiti’s banking infrastructure only offered two bricks-and-mortar establishments for every 100,000 people.

Mobile money should be able to provide Haitians with safer, faster, and (in principle) cheaper ways to transfer money and make purchases, thus making more efficient use of the limited resources at Haitians' disposal. But before they use it, people have to know about it and understand its costs and benefits.

Knowledge of M-Money Spreading Fast

A flash AudienceScapes survey of Haitian adults (sample size 1,214 and nationally representative of the population's demographics) conducted 9-29 January 2011 gives some indication of how quickly word is getting around for the services (which are currently Tcho Tcho Mobile launched by Digicell and T-Cash from Voila). Figure 1 below shows that knowledge of the services appears to be fairly high in many locations (the capital Port-au-Prince is in Ouest department). Note the relatively high awareness of m-money in the Central Department, despite the fact that it is heavily rural and one of Haiti’s least connected areas to communication platforms. This is likely the result of the work conducted by the international NGO Mercy Corps to pilot the T-Cash m-money service as a pay-for-work mechanism in the Central plateau region.

Figure 1

 More significantly, Figure 1 shows how many "unbanked" individuals (that is, those who said they do not have a bank account) had heard of the mobile money services by the time of the survey. The figure also indicates that knowledge of m-money varies significantly from department to department regardless of access to banking services. Note that 80 percent of those who have a bank account said they regularly receive money transfers, versus forty percent of those without a bank account. This is not unsurprising given that a bank account provides a safe place for receiving and storing money, whereas unbanked respondents do not have that asset.

As for the potential for mobile money to take off quickly, survey findings attest to the fact that many people will not face one potentially significant hurdle - the need to have some form of identification document, at least for those wishing to use Tcho Tcho, with 95 percent of respondents saying they possess a national ID.

Meanwhile, at least in the case of Tcho Tcho, illiteracy may be an obstacle for some potential users. Voila’s T-Cash only requires the user to have a firm grasp of numeracy as its service uses strings of number entries. However, Digicel’s Tcho Tcho customers must be able to read French-language menus to conduct a transaction. When we asked respondents how well they read, only 40 percent said they can “read most things”. These literate respondents were also much more likely to already have access to a bank account and possess a relatively high level of education and household income.

Impact on Large Remittance Flows

Mobile money is also capable of facilitating the large number of money remittances flowing around Haiti, although Tcho Tcho and T-Cash are not designed to handle international transfers, which are clearly a large proportion of the transfer flow and historically contribute heavily to post-disaster reconstruction efforts. The AudienceScapes survey showed that nationally, 53 percent of respondents receive money regularly (at least every month or every few months) from someone in another part of the country or in another country (Figure 2). In comparison, the prevalence of sending money to others regularly is much lower with only 11 percent of respondents, hinting that many people are receiving money from abroad. Unfortunately, we were not able to differentiate between domestic and international remittance flows in the survey.

Figure 2

The least amount of money transfer activity seemed to be in departments (or provinces) where there are very little financial infrastructure and it is more difficult and costly to reach bank branches and storefronts that offer transfer services. Respondents in these same departments also had some of the lowest levels of bank account access and knowledge of m-money in our survey, despite some 46 percent of respondents nationally having some knowledge of m-money. These areas of Haiti will require substantial effort on the part of service providers and development organizations to connect with potential m-money agents and reach their respective target populations.

Having access to a safe means of transferring and storing money, like m-money, also has the potential to increase the frequency of money transfers and of merchant transactions. As AudienceScapes found in Tanzania and CGAP researchers concluded in Kenya, m-money adopters tend to increase the number of and frequency of money transfers significantly compared to their habits before using m-money.

Interest and Knowledge of M-Money

As has been pointed out anecdotally by researchers, knowledge of m-money services in Haiti right now is not the same as understanding how to conduct m-money transactions. The challenge for m-money providers is to turn this general knowledge of their services into an understanding by customers and merchants of how it can benefit their everyday lives. If m-money is to reach those most in need of its services in poor and rural areas, it will require m-money providers to not only conduct extensive information campaign but also train a knowledgeable agent network that can work with population that maybe unfamiliar with ICTs and financial services.


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